On May 30, Francis and I decided to visit the remote beaches of El Nido, Philippines. It is located at the northern tip of Palawan, a Philippine island nearer to Indonesia than to its own neighboring islands. I picked that over Boracay, another must-go beaches in Philippines (and in the world), because of the unsaturated chaos of tourism: the crowd, the jacked up prices and party atmosphere. In El Nido, you have the quiet white sand beaches, the serenity of the waves and virgin island mountains to explore.
One reason why it has not risen quickly as a get away was due to the accessibility and price to get there. You have to be either in Manila to fly directly to El Nido in a small (and expensive) private chartered plane or be in Cebu and then fly to Puerto Princessa, followed by a 6-8 hours (bumpy) bus/car ride. For Boracay, you have daily direct flights to its 2 domestic airports with frequent flight sales.
We chose the former choice as it was faster. We booked with ITI (now rebranded as AirSwift). You can book via on their website or El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe, a travel and tour agency in El Nido. This agency also helps book with the nicer hotels in El Nido. We had to pay our ticket reservation using a bank transfer (another option was PayPal but with extra charges). I think that, in the current AirSwift website, you can pay in credit card so that really helps in booking convenience (and get to the 20th century). We paid 9,500 PHP per person, roundtrip Manila to El Nido. We still had to book separate ticket to get to Manila from Singapore. We took the cheapest one on the dates we are planning on: JetStar (147 SGD) to Manila, Cebu Pacific (3,158 PHP) to Singapore. That means we paid an additional 7,891.4 PHP (can you believe the domestic flight was more expensive?), which totals up to almost 17.4k PHP each. And that is just the flights to get there. It may be cheaper when it is a non peak/monsoon season. Take note on the luggage allowance as AirSwift planes are small.
As of that time, 1 SGD was 32.2 PHP (yikes)
AirSwift boarding gate is not found in the international nor domestic airport. You will have to take a taxi to their private hangar: 5-03-127, Andrews Ave. I think they have a (paid) shuttle to drive you to their hanger but we couldn’t find it. We did book a shuttle from their hanger to the Manila International Airport via El Nido Boutique when we landed in El Nido. In their hanger, they have their own waiting lounge with light snacks and drinks (nice!). The boarding pass similar to a wooden rectangle hotel key which I find it cool. The plane uses propeller blades so try to avoid having seats near the wings as they are loud, or get a noise cancelling headphone. When you land in El Nido, you will be waiting (with refreshments) at a open-area hut for your luggage. Then you have the option to get a tricycle to head to your hotel by the road or reserve in advance with your hotel if they provide it. No, you cannot walk to your accommodation and roads are tight so ridding in a car is discouraged.
We didn’t go for the accommodation on the water stilts, which is one of my bucket list, as it was expensive (I think expense was at least 15k PHP per night). We were planning to stay for 4 nights and we didn’t want to spend that much. But hey, if you really want to and you have the means, please do get that room! I would have loved to. We stayed in Cadlao Resort. We opt out of the backpacker accommodation as it was not near the sea. They are cheaper though. The Cadlao Resort is like the middle between backpacker and the water stilts type. We paid 824.32 SGD for 4 nights. We knew El Nido beaches are rocky so we were not surprise that we are not able to walk around the beach. We were here to dive so we know the small islands would be promising. The room is spacious, the one thing that I find it weird is the entrance is like a balcony glass door. You need to pull the curtains down for privacy, which sucks if you want to see the view or not let anyone see where you put your stuff. The plus is that the hotel is right at the sea, the pool is overlooking the huge mountains sitting on the small islands. They are a sight to behold. Their restaurant have decent food.
Things to Take Note
Aside from the travel tips I mentioned above, I must warn you, you don’t come here to surf the internet. You come here to enjoy nature and away from the bustling city. It helps that the Wifi signal is crappy in the whole area. Also, check if your accommodation have air conditioner. Maybe that is why your rate is really cheap. There won’t be a lot of ATMs or banks around the city, so bring enough money or prepay in advance. Not many retails accept credit card. El Nido relies on tourism so there are measures to keep you safe, and generally a safe area, just don’t push it.
What to Do
Of course there is the island hopping and snorkel (why come if you don’t do this). We signed up for scuba diving, so we went to El Dive. A smaller shop than the rest of the diving shops that were found all around the place. We chose it because of the reasonable price and the owner was quite responsive. I must say I would recommend it. Our dive master was kind enough to show us a non tourist spot area and we got to swim in a underwater cave, on top of the wonderful dives with him. It was 6.1k PHP for 5 dives, including the dive computer rental. I also paid 40.46 SGD for diving insurance with DiveAssure.
Other activities would be mountain climbing, trekking, biking, cave exploration, kayaking, see the waterfalls and windsurfing.
Food wise, there are many restaurants in the main street. El Nido is a small town so you can walk around for maybe 40 minutes around the place for souvenirs, beach clothes and restaurants. I don’t remember seeing massage parlors though (with reasonable ambiance). Seafood is the main cuisine here so take advantage of it. We just went to random places to eat, mostly are decent but nothing of spectacular to note about.
All in all, I would say El Nido is beautiful, nice retreat to get outside of the city.